Apricots! The sound of this delectable fruit reminds me of California summers. After all, California grows 94% of all apricots grown in the United States. Available for a short harvesting season, apricots are often the star piece of produce at markets during their growing season (May-August). The velvety outside and sweet and tart inside of this fruit is fulfilling not just in taste, but in nutritional quality as well.
There are over ten different varieties of apricots, the most common to California being the Blenheim variety. Like many crops, apricots thrive in California because of the ideal temperate climate here.
When selecting apricots, look for the following two important factors: color and firmness. The darker the orange color (or even red tinge) and firmer, the better. If your apricots are too unripe, they can be easily ripened in a paper bag at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Apricots are classified as stone fruits (drupes) because of the pit inside. I personally like the smallest apricots (about the size of a golf ball). I think they are the tastiest because they often have the least amount of exposure to overwatering (and pesticides) in the growing process. Apricots are best preserved in a container placed inside a refrigerator. They will remain fresh for up to one week stored in this manner. A perfectly ripe apricot should actually twist open to break it in half, exposing the pit on one side. Note that unripe apricots will not ripen in the refrigerator.
Apricots make a wonderful addition to oatmeal, breakfast cereal, ice cream, or even salads. They can be preserved for long-term use as jams, jellies, and chutneys. Popular desserts include cobblers or poached apricots. But, apricots can also star as the main course dish when prepared as a Moroccan chicken stew with olives or served as apricot glazed chicken. Dried apricots are often dehydrated. Best to seek out those preserved naturally (without sulfur).